Monday, July 14, 2008
The Great Indian Journey 2
BOMBAY TO BIHAR - A ROAD LESS TAKEN
DAY 2: LOOKING FOR GANDHI IN NARENDRA MODI’S GUJARAT
By Manuwant Choudhary
The 100 kilometer stretch before entering Ahmedabad is perhaps the only road patch closest to an expressway. Our Sonata cruised at 160 kmph!
But do refuel your vehicle at the start since you will only see another petrol pump at the end of a 100 km. (both were Reliance-owned so now they must be shut!!)
Ahmedabad … waking-up to another noisy day …could pass off for any small town in India. But we did find our hotel Nayeeka, our stay booked by my college friend Paranjayaditya Parmar (I think he has a longer name since his ancestors were the former Maharaja of Santhrampur). He was at the time contesting the assembly seat from Santhrampur.
Nayeeka is a clean and comfortable hotel but its in Gujarat so all meals are vegetarian only and no alcohol.
Reading a local newspaper I read how corporate Gujarat chose to drive 200 kms into bordering Maharashtra resorts for seminars where they could serve alcohol for their delegates. And so chief minister Narendra Modi had been kind to the corporates in an election year by relaxing the rules. Now hotels in Gujarat holding such conferences for corporates could get special drinking `licences’ for the seminar. Wow only corporates allowed to drink alcohol!
I am sure a state ban on anything was not Gandhi’s idea.
So I visited Gandhi Ashram on the river Sabarmati. The ashram is in an open area and when Gandhiji was still around and the mad concrete constructions had not taken place and the Sabarmati still had enough water, this place must have been pretty. But even now there was a nice breeze here and a certain solitude existed at the spot where Gandhiji would hold his evening prayers.
Old photographs, a spinning wheel and memorabilia were interesting but as the cities boundaries grow, its mindset become narrower. So in entire Ahmedabad for those in love the Gandhi Ashram provides the only cover.
In a country where the Gandhi name is so very important politically I would have expected governments doing a lot for the upkeep of the ashram. But sadly, the Gandhi Ashram lies in neglect. A few foreign tourists and lonely Gandhians dot the ashram but something is missing.
A few kilometers away is the Akshardham temple but it was shut. Amidst huge iron barricades I could see independent India is about temples and how the state spends more resources protecting temples and mosques than people.
By evening Ahmedabad’s streets come alive as thousands of young Gujaratis play the popular `dandiya’, a dance using sticks, the music of course would be from traditional Gujarati folk songs to lilting Bollywood item numbers.
But we were tired so we skipped the dandia for an early dinner. Next morning we were up and ready for the day trip to India’s capital New Delhi via picturesque Rajasthan.
Thanking my friend Paranjay for booking our stay I offered to campaign for him, he replied, “No yaar, what will you do? Send the goondas from Bihar!”